I missed the news of Wisława Szymborska‘s funeral earlier this month, and only just found this youtube clip of the quiet, secular ceremony that nevertheless attracted more than a thousand people in a Polish winter. According to the Associated Press:
Freezing temperatures and falling snow at the Rakowicki Cemetery in the southern city of Kraków, where Szymborska lived, did not discourage the mourners, including Prime Minister Donald Tusk, writers and actors, from attending the ceremony.
An urn with Szymborska’s ashes was placed in the family tomb, where her parents and sister are buried, to a recording of Ella Fitzgerald, Szymborska’s favorite singer, singing “Black Coffee.” The poet was a heavy smoker and a lover of black coffee.
“In her poems, she left us her ability to notice the ordinary, the tiniest particles of beauty and of the joy of the world,” President Bronisław Komorowski said.
“She was a Krakowian by choice,” said Kraków mayor Jacek Majchrowski in the clip below. “The climate agreed with her, so did the people.”
Adam Zagajewski, a good friend of hers, tried repeatedly to introduce me to the reclusive poet – with no success; her circle in her final years was pretty much kept to the closest friends. She wanted to save her energy for her poems. I’m glad I caught the reading last year, perhaps it was her last.
In the clip, Adam Z. notes that “she survived a horrible war, and lived through two totalitarian regimes, but she didn’t choose to keep silent – she chose a way of expressing herself that never led to pointless chatter – but on the contrary, to intelligent expression.” I don’t trust the voiceover translation. It doesn’t sound like the man who has been shortlisted for a Nobel himself.
Rakowicki Cemetery is a huge place – truly an empire of the dead. I can’t remember how I came to see it, but I remember it seemed out of the way, on the edge of town; it must have been during my first visit in 2008, since the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, where I lived last year, is relatively close. Whatever. John Paul II‘s parents are there; heaps of flowers are still placed on their graves, and candles, too.
And soon we join them. How fast it all goes! It is banal to say so. But one hits at some point in middle age the Great Reversal, where we sees clearly that the way ahead is shorter than the way behind, and that it is only luck or chance that we are still eating, talking, taking out the trash and doing the laundry as if nothing particular were happening. This realization creates a revolution in the brain. One sees that life really is an incessant conversation between the living and the dead – and what one writer called “the tyranny of the living,” “the small, arrogant oligarchy of those who happen to be walking around” is a shortsighted view. Nothing we touch, think, feel, or love is other than a gift from those who came before us, passing on literature, painting, domesticated cats, architecture, silver spoons, flush toilets, witty sayings, lullabies, chocolate éclairs, systems of government, habits of kindness before they, too, close the door of their room and, one by one, check out of this giant, raucous hotel.